Mystery of Monarch Butterfly Migration Revealed


The great migration of monarch butterflies from Canada to Mexico has finally been revealed after scientists figure out the insects’ brain ability to find ways.

Mathematicians along with biologists teamed up to study the internal compass of the butterflies to migrate in autumn.

Researchers had a hard time discovering how these butterflies covered such a long distance and thus not a lot of details were brought out to the public. But this time, the scientists are hoping to get better results. The latest study was published in a journal called Cell Reports.

Prof Eli Shlizerman, from the University of Washington who was also the lead researcher, said that being a mathematician he wanted to know how these butterflies’ neurological ability can help learn new rules.

“Monarch butterflies [complete their journey] in such an optimal, predetermined way,” he told BBC News.

“They end up in a particular location in Central Mexico after two months of flight, saving energy and only using a few cues.”

Shlizerman along with colleagues at the University of Michigan and the University of Massachusetts, worked together to record the neurons in the butterflies’ antennae and eyes.

“We identified that the input cues depend entirely on the sun. One is the horizontal position of the sun and the other is keeping the time of the day.This gives [the insects] an internal sun compass for travelling southerly throughout the day.” said Shlizerman.

Shlizerman along with the team proceeded to fabricate a model to work on neurons. The working force came out with two procedures.

One mechanism was related to “neurons in the butterflies’ antennae” and the other one with “azimuth neurons in their eyes”.

“The circuit gets those two signals then matches them, according to how it’s wired, to control signals that tell the system if a correction is needed to stay on the correct course,” explained Prof Shlizerman.

“For me this is very exciting – it shows how a behaviour is produced by the integration of signals,” he added.

Shlizerman said that in the entire system stimulation, one of the goals was to form a robotic version of monarch butterfly which could track the migration of the butterflies.

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